No Automation? Rules for Managing Manual Workflows

By Pat McGrew / Published:

We learned during Inkjet Innovation Week that software is essential for your inkjet ecosystem. We focused on options for both end-to-end automation, but also tools for DIYers. Feedback from that week of technology insights and the review of automation options surfaced questions about manual environments and getting by without the benefits of automation. While automation is recognized as a path to efficiency, the practical reality of buying and installing automation solutions means that manual solutions are still prevalent.

If end-to-end automation is not for you at this time, what can you do to optimize your efficiency? You can still look at the path of work through your shop and make a note of each stop it makes. You might use different color sticky notes to categorize the processes, but be granular. Identify each touchpoint on a sticky note. If there is a subject matter expert who owns an operation, note that person. Take one step at a time: job onboarding, job set-up, preflight, prepress, approval processes.

Don’t forget to include problem resolution loops. They often involve invoking subject matter experts and senior team members. How often do they get involved? Sometimes the sales team gets involved. Is that common in your shop? This is rarely a quick evaluation, but it is an important one. The reason to do it on sticky notes is that you will continue to find processes and subprocesses that you miss on your first pass.

Pass One: The Overview

It is hard to begin deep in the weeds, so create a first pass view with the basics. How many departments or workgroups do you have and what do they do? You may be able to get some efficiency by identifying duplication of process ownership and tasks that have crept into the workflow. Who in the organization touches the onboarding process? Sales? Accounting? Customer Service? Prepress? Find touchpoints! Look for the same duplications across the workflow. With the primary touchpoints identified, where can involve less people in the process?

Pass Two: Less Loops. Less People.

Rethinking the processes may require holding people accountable in a different way. Sales team members may need to let go of the job management. Customer Service may need to be empowered to own the jobs at a deeper level. Consider a common scenario:

A job is sold to a new customer who is not familiar with inkjet. They specify a paper that might not be their best choice. The Customer Service Rep sees the specification and knows that a different paper could be a better choice. After checking inventory, the CSR should be able to go back to the customer to make the suggestion, but in many shops, the process is to go back to the salesperson because they hold the relationship. Often, even if a problem is found in prepress, the path may touch not only the CSR but also the sales team.

Reduce bottlenecks by streamlining the touchpoints! Look for them at the overview level, but then start to dig into the processes within each department. Start with the workgroups where you see the highest number of process loops. Every shop is different.

Do you have bottlenecks in prepress? When asked, many shops who have workflows that are not automated say that they bypass preflighting tools. The lack of preflighting can lead to unintended consequences that add time and effort as work is put into production that may be missing font elements, contains low resolution and “For Position Only” artwork, or has problems with transparency or layers. Adding a step to ensure that all work goes through a preflight tool can save time!

Another common challenge is in the approval process, especially with new clients or those who have recently transitioned their jobs to inkjet technology. Images, color and paper conspire to make well understood jobs look a bit different. The perception that it looks different can lead to more cycles for approval. In addition to the additional costs and time, the touchpoints grow exponentially. What process changes can you make that would set expectations and reduce approval loops?

Look at the rest of your workgroup processes. Find the duplication. Seek out the points of delay. Identify who you can empower. Look for ways to streamline. Make it part of your process to revisit your processes on a regular timetable so that inefficiencies don’t creep back in, adding cost.

Remember, there are a million questions in inkjet city! Have a question for Pat? Get in touch.

If you want to automate your workflow but need to justify the cost, check out the Business Case Calculator for Software .

About the Author

Pat McGrew


Pat is a well-known evangelist for inkjet productivity. At McGrew Group, she uses her decades technical and marketing experience to lead the industry toward optimized business processes and production workflows. She has helped companies to define their five-year plans, audited workflow processes, and developed sales team interventions and education programs. Pat is the Co-Author of 8 industry books, editor of A Guide to the Electronic Document Body of Knowledge, and a regular contributor to Inkjet Insight and

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